A prominent Canberra developer has been ordered to urgently address "serious" structural defects at a Kingston apartment complex, with ACT government inspectors warning the building could become unlivable without rapid rectification work.
Access Canberra this month served Morris Construction Corporation - a related entity of Morris Property Group - with an emergency order to prop up concrete slabs at its 120-unit Kingston Place development.
A number of the building's columns are at significant risk of "punching" through the slabs, according to a copy of the order obtained by The Canberra Times.
If left unaddressed, the problem could result in "catastrophic structural defects" which render the complex unlivable, the order stated.
But Morris Property Group director Barry Morris believes the building is structurally sound, and the emergency rectification works are not in the best interests of residents. However, he says further investigation is warranted and they are committed to finding a resolution.
The Canberra Times understands almost 240 temporary props will be installed throughout the complex, including on the balconies of more than 30 apartments.
A number of supports were installed last year in the basement carpark.
The company was issued with a separate rectification order on August 27 to address a range of other defects, including cracking in the building's basement and first floor.
Despite the well-publicised problems in Canberra's construction sector, it is rare for the government to hit builders with rectification orders.
Access Canberra issued just three in 2018-19.
The building has experienced serious defects that could result in the building becoming unlivable due to catastrophic structural defectsAccess Canberra deputy occupations registrar Nick Lhuede
The construction company appealed to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal to have the emergency rectification order delayed, but that was rejected at a hearing on September 25.
Morris Construction Corporation is already locked in court proceedings with Kingston Place apartment owners over alleged defects at the Eyre Street complex.
It has repeatedly denied liability for the allegedly defective work.
Earlier this year, the head of the Kingston Place executive committee, John Grant, said owners had "no other option" but to launch legal action after Access Canberra twice failed to follow through on threats to force the company to fix the allegedly defective work.
Appearing before the ACT Legislative Assembly's building quality inquiry, Mr Grant said owners had spent $250,000 on expert reports and $400,000 on legal fees since 2014.
But more than three years after owners made their first formal complaint, the regulator has finally acted.
Access Canberra conducted an inspection of Kingston Place on September 19, a day after it received another complaint.
On September 20, deputy construction occupations registrar Nick Lhuede signed off on the emergency rectification order.
In most cases, the regulator issues a construction company with a notice of intention to serve a rectification order, which gives them an opportunity to defend the claim, or fix the defect, before a formal sanction is handed down.
But Mr Lhuede said that was "not appropriate" in this case, as rectification works were urgently needed to prevent "loss of amenity or risk of harm to people living in the building or passers-by."
The order stated the temporary solution would likely inconvenience some residents, but that it would have far less of an impact than if the props weren't installed and the building "failed".
In a statement provided to The Canberra Times, Mr Morris said on receiving the order, Morris Construction Corporation immediately engaged a consultant structural engineer to inspect the property.
"The advice we received from this independent expert echoes previous professional opinion confirming the structural integrity of the building is sound but further investigation is warranted to properly understand what, if any, works may be required in the short term," Mr Morris said.
Morris Construction Corporation had previously undertaken a number of measures to protect the building at its cost, to allay concerns raised by the owners corporation and ensure their ongoing safety whilst the Supreme Court proceedings remain on foot and unresolved.
The statement said that the measures had been done on a without admission basis as advice from the building's structural engineer has always been that the structure is stable.
"We take the rectification orders very seriously but it is important that due process be observed so the best outcome can be reached," Mr Morris said.
"We do not believe the works proposed under the emergency order are in the best interests of the building or its residents."
The specific defect identified at Kingston Place is the potential for "punching shear failure".
It occurs when a concrete slab is put under so much stress that a column "punches" through it.
Unlike other types of structural failures in buildings, it has the potential to occur with "minimal warning", according to Mr Lhuede's order.
Mr Lhuede said he was "satisfied" that the defects were the result of Morris' failure to build in accordance with the territory's building laws.
"I have considered that the contraventions have caused, or may cause injury, loss or damage," the order stated.
"The building has experienced serious defects that could result in the building becoming unlivable due to catastrophic structural defects if the defects are not rectified on an urgent basis."
The support structures would have to be installed by October 11, under the terms of the order.
Construction companies face fines of up to $320,000 for failing to comply with a rectification order.
Morris Construction Corporation would be required to cover all costs.
Mr Grant, who is a former chief executive of the Australian Building Codes Board, did not wish to comment while the court case relating to Kingston Place was ongoing.
The Morris group is one of the most prominent players in Canberra's residential development sector.
It is behind the Barracks development in the City Hill precinct, as well as the planned transformation of the old Stuart Flats public housing complex in Griffith.
The developer bought the prime inner-south block for $55.6 million at a Suburban Land Agency auction in February.
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